Diggs returned two kickoffs for 33 yards on Saturday against Kansas, who decided to let someone other than Whittaker beat them. Whittaker entered the game with 100-yard touchdown returns in each of his last two games — a school record. But as expected, the Jayhawks pooch kicked and angled the ball away from the senior.
Now the onus is on freshman cornerback Diggs to keep the return game strong. Diggs and junior tailback D.J. Monroe will get more chances for kick returns over the final five games of the season.
“It’s a great opportunity for me and D.J. to step up and try to get those guys to kick away from us also,” Diggs said.
Diggs has returned 10 kickoffs for 186 yards, including 121 against Oklahoma on Oct. 8. Monroe has four returns totaling 61 yards.
Diggs also had an interception against the Jayhawks, his second of the year.
Vertical passing game lacking
Texas has found success on the ground in recent weeks, but the downfield passing game has taken a hit.
Since assuming the starting job against Oklahoma State, quarterback David Ash has completed just three passes over 16 yards — the distance the coaching staff considers an explosive play. Only one of those completions has gone to the Longhorns’ big-play wide receiver, Mike Davis, with a 20-yard connection against OSU.
Texas steamrolled Kansas for 441 yards rushing and piled up 231 yards against the Cowboys, leaving few opportunities for Ash and Davis to complete long throws. But the two have stayed after practice to work on vertical routes and deep balls in recent weeks, typically working for 45 minutes after each day’s conclusion.
Davis and Ash haven’t established the same rapport that the wideout shared with former starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert, but they’re working on it.
“We’re on the right track, we’re clicking together,” Davis said.
Davis has seven explosive plays this season in seven games, but only two of those have come from Ash. Still, the sophomore believes he will have an opportunity to get down the field as teams start to bring extra defenders closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the run.
“Now it’s time to air it out because teams are going to start biting down [on the run],” said Davis, who has 27 catches for 418 yards.
The Longhorns’ dynamic rushing attack should open things up for Davis in the vertical passing game, but the results haven’t been there yet. He’ll have an opportunity this weekend, though, against a banged-up Texas Tech secondary.
Injured Horns expected to play
The Longhorns beat Kansas by 43 points, but several players took a beating themselves.
Jaxon Shipley left Saturday’s game with a knee injury, but is listed as a starter this week. The wide receiver felt discomfort in his knee after a collision with a Jayhawks defender while trying to catch a ball near the sidelines. The pass fell incomplete, but KU was penalized for an illegal hit against a defenseless receiver.
Shipley caught five passes for 57 yards before leaving the game. The freshman also rushed once for seven yards.
Still, head coach Mack Brown expects all three to play against Texas Tech.
Phillips is listed as an “either/or” candidate at right cornerback with Diggs and is behind safety Kenny Vaccaro at the nickel position. Phillips and Diggs lead the team with two interceptions each.
Printed on Wednesday, November 2, 2011 as: Return game gets a boost from Diggs